Overcoming Fear: Put The Rattlesnake In Its Place

Teri on the fear factor trail.

Hi, my name is Teri and I am afraid. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been afraid and the world around me has been very accommodating in justifying all of my fears – encouraging them and fanning the flame right on schedule: no time off for holidays. Whether it’s the certainty of catching Ebola from a stranger or being snarked on by the Facebook grammar police (my daughters) who at this very moment are muttering, “snarked is not a word”, the universe is intent on keeping its fellow humans in a constant state of anxiety. Presently I’m beginning a new chapter titled Blow It Out Your Pie-hole, You Can’t Scare Me, but the past has been a very different and fear-filled story.

My previous life had me stressing over things as varied as being an inadequate dolt in the presence my ex’s highly educated friends while they compared notes on the agony of GRE prep to the surety that my four kids would wind up in juvenile detention if I stopped breastfeeding them before they entered grade school. The one thing the previous life taught me about fear is, like weeds, it grows when left unchecked.

As I moved through adult life, my weedy, pesticide-resistant fears pretty much centered around who I was in the world and this led to the powerful conclusion that extreme insecurity and false bravado were simply two sides of the same coin. I had dabbled in both a sassy ego and a shredded self worth and finally come to realize that the reason I feared not being smart enough, sophisticated enough, witty enough – was because I wasn’t. And I still am not.

For years I’d wandered into connections with people that were constant reminders that I was unworthy and not up to snuff but the vacating of a job and a round of multiple crises in a short period of time offered up an unexpected victory. The win was the realization that I was just an average Teri and that turned out to be joyfully freeing. Exhausted from the self-worth battle, I’d finally surrendered and in that surrender my fear gained perspective, I need not make any further attempt at special. Average was acceptable.

This embrace of average is something most goal oriented people do not understand: those who cut their teeth on grade point averages, yearly income, and an inability to laugh at themselves as energetically as they do at everyone else are allergic to average but for me it was empowering. It was freeing. There was no longer a quest for extraordinary and most profoundly, any strategy designed to convey my own specialness was finished. Who’da thunk it, that this search for the above average was truly the root, the nucleus of all of my fears.

Once self worth and ego were given a time out, fear became a force that could be deciphered on its own and dealt with head on and lucky for me, a robust, middle-aged rattlesnake was waiting to help me out. In the split second it takes to make a dumb decision and head down an overgrown and very narrow trail, I was transformed by Slytherin, a rattlesnake the size of an Anaconda yet somehow hidden in the grass. This deadly serpent fired up a rattle that sounded like a chainsaw and caused a very rational response from me: I first froze and then ran like hell while grabbing my cell phone because everyone knows a snake can be warded off with a call to a boyfriend who lives thirteen hundred miles away. My desire for an off grid hike always mysteriously vanishes at the first hint of a snake.

Yes, I lived through this but the result was a terror every time I went near the trail that I had so coveted pre-Slytherin encounter. Over the next few months, I trekked past the trailhead and stared enviously down the dusty path at other hikers sauntering merrily along, not a care in the world. A half a year passed and then one day on a hike with my daughter’s significant other, I relayed the story and my fear. Of course Jules’ Dutch to English response was “We go, yes? We must take this trail now”.

And so we did, with me inexplicably going first. Jules had previously shared that snakes are gratefully unheard of in Holland and though he was in agreement that I needed to face my fear, he saw no urgency in facing his. Like the true leader and snake expert I am, I conquered the terrain by clapping my hands loudly and shuffling my feet in a grumpier old men fashion. Evidently the snakes recognized my superiority as we saw none on our two and a half mile stretch. What we did see was a spectacular trail that was reminiscent of Lord Of The Rings and as I walked through the forest, I found that the snake focus abated and my attention shifted to the trek.

As it happened, the week of the snake face-off coincided with my attendance at two documentary showings, both dealing specifically with fear and self worth. MERU is a story of tenacity, friendship, courage, and honor while JEFF LOWE’S METANOIA explores both determination and surrender and how those two can coexist. These mountain climbing tales made me hyper-aware that the guys involved seemingly managed any fear by literally looking upward. In every camera shot, they fixed their gaze and attention on the top of where they were headed. As storms raged, food diminished, and their bodies and psyches became battered and bruised, they simply narrowed their vision to exactly what it would take to progress to the next level. Sometimes they made it, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes life stepped in and avalanched their worlds more than anything had on any mountain. Did they have fear? Yes. You can see it in their eyes. Did the fear at times influence the outcome? Of course it did as they used the fear like a tool, carving reason into a pragmatic equation, but did they allow the fear to dominate and define who they were? No.

Fear will always be part of being human. How we navigate it and what role it plays in our lives can be dictated by the world or it can be dictated by us. Perspective is up to the individual. Just how dangerous is it to hike, canoe, rock climb, ski, snowboard, run, skateboard, bike or for that matter, make a grammatical error, say something less than brilliant, wear mediocre clothing and on and on and on? For the beautifully teeny-tiny, average person – compared to sitting it out – statistically, diving in is either scary-dangerous or slap happy-safe. Only you can decide.



2 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear: Put The Rattlesnake In Its Place”

  1. Oh how I love this post, thank you. In saying that… don’t come to Australia – our snakes make no noise to warn BUT I see snakes as a taslisman almost – you coming across this wonderful creature changed things for you it literally and figuratively changed your path. Thanks for writing this – again, I really loved it. hx

    1. Australia is on my list! As for snakes, at a distance, I always enjoy seeing them and find them to be a confirmation that life away from the grid is mysterious and thrilling. Thanks for commenting and sorry I just now saw it, it got rerouted to spam, courtesy of a filter. :/

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